The Tablighi Jamaat gathering in New Delhi’s Nizammudin has made the national capital a hotspot for the novel coronavirus. As more suspected patients linked to the gathering test positive across the country, the entire Muslim comunity is feeeling targeted in some states. Thanks to certain TV channels, the narrative around the spread of COVID-19 is also getting communally polarised.
There is panic among the Muslim community in small hamlets of Meerut, Bijnor and Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, most of whom have nothing to do with the Tablighi Jamaat or the Delhi gathering. With police raids becoming a part of everyday life for Muslim households in the region, the community is gripped with the fear of being targeted.
Several local residents of these areas have claimed that individuals are being targeted under the garb of being suspected coronavirus patients despite having no link with the Tablighi Jamaat gathering.
‘Targeted without any basis’
With reports of police crackdown on Muslims in the state, many within the community are reportedly considering fleeing. Ubaidullah, a social activist based in Meerut, which has reported 19 COVID-19 positive cases so far, told NewsClick; "In Meerut district, the police is randomly raiding Muslim hamlets, and are especially questioning mosque clerics. They are asking for details of people who recently visited Nizamuddin for the Tablighi Jamaat gathering and even those who recently visited Delhi. Poor daily wagers who recently walked from Delhi to Meerut after the 21-day lockdown was announced, are particularly worried. The police are not sparing them and harassing them to find out if they were ever a part of the gathering. It seems that for the district administration, every Muslims is a Tablighi.”
A young man, who did not want to be identified, said his brother, Yusuf Malik (name changed), went to Nizamuddin (the site of a revered dargah) six months ago, but the police still raided his house and questioned him, asking him to name persons who visited last Delhi last month. When he said he did not know, the cops threatened him further, he added.
Those among the Muslim community, who have previously been vocal against the policies of the state government, are also alleging harassment. Nazir Malik is one such person. A veteran journalist based in Siddharthnagar, Malik’s name is allegedly being circulated in Right-wing circles on social media, declaring him as a coronavirus suspect since he was part of Tablighi Jamaat.
Sharing his account, Malik told NewsClick, “Since my entire family is strong in terms of education and financial situation, we are being targeted. I have been critical of the policies of the BJP government and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), so they have been trying to publicly shame me. This time round, they are saying that I am a coronavirus suspect despite the fact that I have never been there (Markaz Nizamuddin).” He said he had informed the Circle Officer(CO)about this and he had assured him that action would be taken against those spreading this ‘fake alert’. “If the district administration does not take action against Right-wing people, I will knock the door of court and sue them,” Malik said.
Mosques in line of questioning
The UP police is reportedly not just raiding houses but also harassing various imams of the mosques asking them to show the register of the people who visited Nizamuddin for the Tablighi Jamaat between February to March.
On Wednesday, the Gorakhpur police raided the Makkah mosque, Akbari Jama Masjid, among a dozen other mosques in the city.
The police also questioned Shakir Salmani, head of an organisation named Hindu-Muslim Ekta Committee, and asked him about the Tablighi Jamaat. Salmani said “after the Nizamuddin incident, police are very alert in Gorakhpur and keeping an eye on every mosque. People are living in fear due to random raids of the police. Since the lockdown began, nobody is going to offer prayers at the mosque. The poor are very scared.”
Expressing concern over rising fear of being targeted among the community, the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Imam Bukhari, said,” the government should ensure the safety of Muslims living in fear. Media didn’t have any issue or debate and made the Tablighi Jamaat a Hindu-Muslim issue. Despite the fact that the Markaz informed administration that people were stranded there (due to the lockdown) , the media is holding them responsible for coronavirus, which is totally unfair.”
After several people who had attended an ‘ijtema’ (congregation) organised by the Tablighi Jamaat at its markaz (headquarters) in Nizamuddin West on March 15 developed symptoms of COVID-19 infection, they were rushed to Delhi government’s hospitals on the intervening night of March 29-30 and even later. The government said their screenings were being conducted. Seven people have died in connection with the gathering while several others have tested positive for coronavirus.
The congregation was attended by people from Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Malaysia. While six men from Telangana, who attended the congregation died in Telangana on March 15, a visitor died last week in Srinagar. Before coming to Delhi, the deceased had also gone to the Deoband seminary in Uttar Prades